V/A – Christians Catch Hell (Gospel Roots, 1976-79)
“Utterly magnificent, sublimely soulful survey of the Gospel Roots label, subsidiary of the mighty TK Records at the height of the Miami Sound.
A&R was co-ordinated by Gospel legends Ira Tucker — from the Dixie Hummingbirds — and Ralph Bass, veteran producer with Savoy, King and Chess. The label was run by Timmy Thomas, who had recently smashed with Why Can’t We Live Together, for another TK spin-off, Glades. Operations were overseen by Henry Stone himself, unlikely King of Disco, who had recorded a young Ray Charles, and pushed forward James Brown. They drew in artists from all over the US, from St. Louis, Columbus, Memphis, Brooklyn, Cabrini Green in Chicago: unknowns like Camille Doughty, reluctant to jeopardise her job at GM (‘Generous Motors’) in Detroit, and huge-sellers like the revered Brooklyn All Stars, who started out on Peacock in 1958.
Choral belters, deep ballads, harmony quartets, epic city-blues, gritty funk, powerhouse female soul… Killer-diller Philly like a scorching version of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ Wake Up Everybody; and Jean Austin’s raw Spirit Free, co-written by Ronnie Dyson, produced by Jesse James at Future Gold. Chicago Sound like The Fantastic Family Aires — named after the family’s furniture store on North Cicero, but reminiscent of the Staple Singers at their best — through to the full-blown glory of The Fountain Of Life Joy Choir, led by Marvin Yancy from The Independents, and featuring Natalie Cole… Singers like Versie Mae Gibson, from the Jordans, by rights up there with Irma, Etta and Ree… Bangers 100%-guaranteed to find their way into Theo Parrish sets; and mortal delirium for the prissiest of soul and gospel purists.
Beautifully presented… the LPs with a 12″-square, full-colour, sixteen-page album of photos and original artwork, the CD with a forty-page booklet — and truly outstanding notes, including insightful new interviews across the board; mastered at Abbey Road.
Dread and civitas, for Christmas; grit and transcendence.”